Taking the fight to Pakistan from Afghanistan

July 17, 2009

Michael Cohen and Parag Khanna have become the latest to argue, in an article in Foreign Policy, that the real focus of President Barack Obama’s battle against the Taliban and al Qaeda should be Pakistan rather than Afghanistan.

“Preventing a return of al Qaeda to Afghanistan is important, but a long, state-building mission in one of the world’s most underdeveloped countries is the costliest and least effective way to accomplish that goal,” they write.

“The even better course of action is to shift the weight of U.S. political and military efforts to Pakistan. There, the United States should continue its policy of waging drone attacks against al Qaeda and Taliban leaders. With better intelligence from the Pakistani side — as demonstrated recently — the U.S. Army can improve the accuracy of its strikes. And though drone strikes are controversial, targeting al Qaeda’s leadership is the best military strategy — and the best way to protect Americans, Afghans, and Pakistanis from terrorism. And that fight is in Pakistan, not Afghanistan.

“What’s more, though nation-building in Afghanistan is an unlikely proposition even in the long term, nation-building in Pakistan is essential — and achievable,” they say. And to achieve this, the authors argue for reconstruction efforts in the tribal areas, comparable to those planned for the Swat valley, where the Pakistan Army has just completed a military offensive. 

The argument about Pakistan rather than Afghanistan being the central front is interesting. It has been gaining currency in recent months, particularly in Britain where misgivings about the Afghan campaign tend to run higher than in the United States. Why, runs the refrain, are soldiers being sent to die in Afghanistan, when al Qaeda and the Taliban leadership are believed to be in Pakistan?

Where the article falls down is in the details.

Joshua Foust at Registan.net has already picked up on some of them. “It’s not a bad thing to argue the necessity of a focus on Pakistan. It’s just… that won’t do us much good if we also ignore Afghanistan, which is kind of what they’re arguing,” he writes.

The authors make an assumption that the Pakistan Army, which is preparing an offensive in South Waziristan, plans the same kind of “clear, hold and build” operation there as it carried out in Swat. Yet while this was appropriate for Swat, a so-called “settled area” not that far from Islamabad, there is no evidence that it would do the same in the tribal areas. These have never been governed by central authority, right back to the days when the rulers of the British Raj tried, and failed, to pacify them.

Rather what many are expecting in South Waziristan is a traditional punitive expedition against Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud – quite different from the operation in Swat where the army aimed to restore government and public services after a brief period under Taliban rule. So talking about reconstruction efforts in tribal areas like South Waziristan is at the very least, premature.

Nor do the authors deal with a widespread belief, backed by the U.S. administration, that the Afghan Taliban are based not in the tribal areas of Pakistan but in and around Quetta, the capital of its Baluchistan province. Sending U.S. drones into ”mainland Pakistan” would be quite different from dropping missiles on the tribal areas — and even these cause resentment in Pakistan, which sees them as both a breach of its sovereignty and a 21st century sledgehammer in which civilians as well as militant leaders die.

Nor do they say how the United States should deal with militant groups like the Laskhar-e-Taiba, traditionally focused on India, based in Punjab in the heart of Pakistan, and increasingly seen as a potential threat to the west.

In post 9/11 literature, it has become almost axiomatic that failed or dysfunctional states like Afghanistan are less dangerous than functioning states, since it is easier for the United States to bomb or fight its way in without a strong central government to stop it. Pakistan is a functioning state with a powerful, professional army and nuclear weapons. So even if Washington were to decide its main focus should be on Pakistan rather than Afghanistan, what exactly should it do?

The authors raise the question, but do not come up with the answers. Should we not perhaps also assume that the U.S. administration asked the same question?

(Reuters photos: Afghan villager; the widow and mother of a British officer killed in Afghanistan; U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan)

23 comments

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Bravo and congratulation.

You have done a Spartian shot.

The West especially the US and UK must wake up. For God’s sake wake up.

The key to end bloosdhed in Afghanistan and stop Western blood and tears in Afghanistan lies in Pakistan. There is ISI and there is another ISI within this ISI. This ISI is composed of a bunch of villains like General Hamid Gul, Colonel Imam and others. They are officially retired, but more powerful than the president and prime minister of Pakistan.

They are motivating the Taliban to kill the “crusiders” but to American they changed their colors to a pro-democracy and prgressive elements.

For God sake if not for the blood of thousands of Americans killed, stop this core of ISI within ISI, you will end the war and gain victory. But these are villains that make Shakespearean villains look like saint. Be careful, just tame Pakistan military and that ISI I showed you, or face a historical defeat in AFghanistan.

Taliban’s Achill’s heel is its leaders’ dependence on ISI. Explot it. ISI is hiding these criminals like Mullah Omar, Hekmatyar and others, Claim them. Never trust Pakistanis.

Why Ameriacans and Britons are so ignorant and stupid. My heart is bleeding of crying.

Go for it, your enemey and success lies right in Pakistan nowhere eles. If you fail, you must shed more blood and lose treasure.

Drones need to go to Karachi ..

Actually all Taliban leaders in big cities .. so drones need to move on to cities .. Taliban should have no place to rest and recharge .. else US/NATO will keep losing lives in Afghanistan.
http://www.pbs.org/frontlineworld/rough/ 2009/07/karachis_invisi.html

Posted by Andrea | Report as abusive

ISI HQ needs to be flattened ..

The Pakistan military has declared that not only is it in contact with Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar but that it can bring him and other commanders to the negotiating table with the United States
http://www.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/asiapcf/07  /10/pakistan.taliban.omar/index.html?ir ef=newssearch

If Taliban were bombed for harboring AQ, then bomb ISI for harboring Taliban and AQ.

Price of delay .. latest US death toll 667, UK 185, NATO 1600 ..

Posted by Andrea | Report as abusive

Myra,

There is little NATO can do in Pakistan despite the fact that Pakistan has been the epicenter of terrorism. The governments of NATO nations will not take additional risk of escalating the scope of war in Pakistan. Nor can they withstand more financial burden on their treasuries by prolonging the conflict. If confrontation is out of the window, negotiation with the terrorists is the only bitter alternative. Pak army, recently, has also offered to broker meetings between the US and the terrorists, in return for some arm-twisting of India.

The Obama administration, most likely, will negotiate with the likes of Mullah Omar if it results in relative peace in Afghanistan. India has also diluted its stand with Pakistan hoping to see end of terrorism directed towards it.

Posted by Nikhil | Report as abusive

So ask yourself, who needs to keep the opium and heroin trade intact in Afghanistan?

Apparently many, on both sides, officially and unofficially — hence the current dirty-hands approach as globally spearheaded by US president Barack Obama, to prop up Karzai — with the deaf, dumb, and blind rationale of ‘pragmatic’ nation building.

The only effective, substantial, worthwhile, and moral AfPak strategy would be for the US and UK to first dedicate their military might and technology solely to opium poppy eradication, and coordinate with international aid to simultaneously help the illicit-to-licit Afghan economy transition.

But the Afghan farmer — ostensibly a Muslim and supposedly against intoxicants — doesn’t want this. Nor do the Taleban, Al Qaeda, and ISI. Nor does the Karzai government. Nor does the Russian mafia want it. Nor does the CIA or President Obama.

Look at the mixed bag of company you keep when you ignore the right thing to do.

If in the US, the federal DEA, state and local law enforcement, the Border Patrol, and Coast Guard all turned a blind eye to marihuana fields, meth labs, and sea/air/land vehicles importing heroin and cocaine tomorrow — as is the case with the US military and poppies in Afghanistan — we in the US would be in the same economic, political, and moral boat as Afghanistan in just a few short years.

Trying to pick winners and losers in Afghanistan, by a combination now of ever-increasing boots on the ground and air strikes, is the modern-day attempt to untie the Gordian Knot. It’s a strategy doomed to failure from the start. Yet when Karzai is — surprise, surprise — re-elected, the global PR will spin the strategy as a success. And the Afghan farmer will continue to cultivate opium poppies, and those who need the illicit profits from such to continue their illicit activities will remain well-funded.

It couldn’t be any more obvious.

Posted by dom youngross | Report as abusive

American policy is self defeating ..

US sends billions of uncontrolled free aid and weapons to Pakistan army .. Pakistan army grows dangerously out of control and size .. and creates proxy armies like Taliban, LeT, JuD, JI, JeM and so on .. for fight in Afghanistan and India, Bangladesh ..

Then US sends soldiers to Afghanistan to fight and die .. but US is unwilling to cut the aid supply lines pakistan army ..

US is feeling the pain of this cancer now .. India and Afghanistan have been silently suffering this cancer for last 30 years .. hardly anybody sympathized ..

Posted by Carol | Report as abusive

It was due to Cheney’s connivance & Bush’s buffoonery, that the American public was duped into invading the wrong country i.e. Iraq. In reality, the ‘Rogue country’ with ‘Weapons of mass destruction’ & which was also implicitly involved in 9/11, was all along, Pakistan. I hope Obama corrects that mistake by invading Pakistan & dismantling the ‘real’ terror infrastructure which is the ISI & the Pakistan Army.

Posted by Costanza | Report as abusive

Myra,

Based on the comments above, it seem that President Obama and Sec. Clinton are being lied to and taken for a ride in Pakistan. This is will lead to the loss of American soldiers, it will not stop the terrorism and the Paks keep building nukes with the IMF and U.S. taxpayer dollers.

From above, “Andrea” says,

“SI HQ needs to be flattened ..

The Pakistan military has declared that not only is it in contact with Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar but that it can bring him and other commanders to the negotiating table with the United States
http://www.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/asiapcf/07   /10/pakistan.taliban.omar/index.html?ir ef=newssearch”

The notorious Hamid Gul sublimely admits that he can bring Mullah Omar to the Table to talk to the U.S. It is time to turn the tables on Pakistan and quit playing nice. While Obama and Clinton play footsies with Pakistan, American soldiers are getting uselessly slaughtered, innocent Afghans and Paks are dying. It is time to end this madness, and goto the top of the food chain and collapse it upon those who enable, support, supply and fund the Taliban. Some people believe they sit in the offices of the ISI and Pak Army. I think the U.S. knows who they are and so does Obama.

Pakistan IS a Rogue terrorist sponsoring state that is nuclear armed and playing games with the World, fooling and lying to us. We are already in huge trouble and just do not know it.

Brokering any meetings with Terrorists like the Taliban, using Hamid Gul is useless. Hamid Gul proudly and flagrantly shows his complicit support and tacit approvoal for terrorists and displays his sympathies for them.

Terrorists respect only one thing, a barrage of U.S. cruise missiles or a thermobaric vaccuum ordinance. It may be time to deploy for their use.

There can not be any negotiations with terrorists. They must be met with extremely overwhelming might, bone crushing force, taken to their doorsteps while they sleep and eat in their holes.

The militants and their mentors at the top, must be crushed unequivocally, no permission is required and no apologies need to be given and no explanations are required.

Posted by Global Watcher | Report as abusive

Andrea,
“Price of delay .. latest US death toll 667, UK 185, NATO 1600 ..”

don’t just count numbers .. these are not numbers ..

Beautiful young lives cut short to defend freedom, democracy and human dignity. These people were normal humans like us .. with family, kids, spouses, brothers, sisters and parents. Some of the soldiers are as young as 18 years ..

Posted by Carol | Report as abusive

Pakistan would then side with China and start opposing America. Already Pakistan is uncomfortable with the conditions and monitoring of the aid that is being provided by America. It started supporting America to oppose the Soviets and for the free money/arms.
Now it will go into China’s fold thereby getting free money/arms from China to fight America.
Pakistan was created on the basis of religion. However, it doesn’t raise a voice against China and support Uighurs even though Uighur’s demand is on similar lines(religion/ethnicity). It’s known for double crossing and it won’t hesitate to use arms against America with help from China.
The moment the aid dries up, Pak will become a puppet of China making it more difficult for America to think of any action inside Pak.

Posted by FS | Report as abusive

Myra,

Finally, a section of US has now woken up to the hard fact that Pakistan is home of all the terrorists and jehadi elements , jehadi elements through out the world draw inspiration from Pakistanis . To make the world terror free, international community must hold Pakistan accountable and punitive measures should be taken prevent repetition. Secondly and most important, the presence of nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction in Pakistan pose gravest threat to existence of humanity. International community must take measures to seize control from the hands of Pakistanis and put them into control of IAEA , international community must prosecute international criminals like A.Q.Khan , the father of Pakistan’s nuclear programme, for illegal proliferation of nuclear technology.

Posted by Manish | Report as abusive

An attack on Pakistan will be met with full force and it should be kept in mind that unlike Iraq or Afghanistan Pakistan is not going to be an easy game.
With a huge and capable Army, a potent Air Force, a sizeable Navy , nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, and a fearless spy service ISI undertaking deadliest missions with no fear. Pakistan is not comparable to Iraq or Afganistan at all.

Pakistan Army is involved in counterinsurgency, ISI has apprehended the most Al-qaeda fugitives numbered in hundereds and brought to justice. The world has a clear choice; assist Pakistan Army and ISI in fight against terrorists or risk a war with Pakistan.

Posted by Umair | Report as abusive

German Islamists heading to Pakistan training camps.
http://www.monstersandcritics.com/news/e urope/news/article_1490568.php/German_Is lamists_heading_to_Pakistan_training_cam ps_

Where r the drones?

Posted by Patrick | Report as abusive

It is a good albeit late realization that the real villain is Pakistan and Afghanistan is yet another victim of its regional policies. But going after Pakistan has its repercussions. That is why there is hesitation on the part of the US and the allies into going after the real epicenter of the whole problem. We know very well where the problem lies. However pushing Pakistan with its back to the wall at this time can be dangerous. They have managed to survive by providing what we have asked for in return for our silent non-response to their regional activities. However such activities have spiraled out of control and have begun to burn their own country. A desperate Pakistan when it realizes that it is being cornered, will try to fight its way out of it. The easiest way is to declare martial law, take over the civilian government and immediately wage terrorist strikes within neighboring India. And India this time will retaliate and the war would follow right away. Nukes will be used indiscriminately and everything will burn out of existence, including Pakistan. That will be one massive suicide attack, a nation doing it to cause maximum damage to the neighborhood and die in the process. So the first thing we and our allies must do is go after those nukes. Get them out somehow. Without this step, the worst will happen. And the sooner it is done, the better for everyone.

So this means UK, Us and NATO forces fight the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Pakistan?

This would lead to all sorts of troubles.

Posted by bulletfish | Report as abusive

Paul, you said:

“. So the first thing we and our allies must do is go after those nukes. Get them out somehow. Without this step, the worst will happen. And the sooner it is done, the better for everyone.”

A robust Indian missile defence shield to vapourize the Pak Nukes in the apogee of their trajectory is also another option.

Posted by Global Watcher | Report as abusive

Myra, Umair says:

“Pakistan Army is involved in counterinsurgency, ISI has apprehended the most Al-qaeda fugitives numbered in hundereds and brought to justice. The world has a clear choice; assist Pakistan Army and ISI in fight against terrorists or risk a war with Pakistan.”

There is hidden implication that Pakistan wants to hold the world hostage with its nukes or the implied threat of what it will do, if that is so, come out and say it.

The day the Pakistan threatens the world with its nukes, is the day that nations will unite to fix Pakistan by force. Threatening the world will not require permission or apologies or explainations, when 4-5 superpowers show up at your doorstep, that will be the end of Pakistan into the history books.

Posted by Global Watcher | Report as abusive

Umair Wrote:

“With a huge and capable Army, a potent Air Force, a sizeable Navy , nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, and a fearless spy service ISI undertaking deadliest missions with no fear. Pakistan is not comparable to Iraq or Afganistan at all.”

That’s true, any attempt to snatch Nukes from them by force could make Pakistan actually use them. But at most their Nukes can reach only at India, Afghanistan and Israel. They will not use Nukes against any country but India only.

Another option which can be exercised is nailing harsh economic sanctions on Pakistan by all countries. They already have negligible economy and living off aid. Cut their Oil, food, money and weapons and let them eat their Nukes or UN can buy their Nukes and use them in peaceful applications e.g generating electricity. In fact “Food for Nukes” will be very effective in Pakistan. Pakistan should be given aid only if it lets international observation and investigation teams to check their Nuke stock and Give all out access to these teams to denuclearize Pakistan.

India should also pledge to “NO THREATS” to Pakistan as long as Pakistan does not support terrorism in India.

History shows us that Nuclear states cannot be attacked, but can be made Implode from within and Pakistan can be denuclearized only by making them economically handicap.

Otherwise they will continue to hold world hostage, and extort money due to their nuclear capacity.

Posted by Singh | Report as abusive

@Where r the drones?
- Posted by Patrick

Patrick: As they say iron cuts iron, the smart approach for Pres Obama is to use Pakistan to have a holistic anti-terrorist approach. Just drones will not do the job. It is much easier to arm twist Pakistan despite these jignoist pakistanis, who love to tell the population of their country, one often encounters over the blogs ranting nothings on behalf of Kayani et al! Pakistan has no way to run since now even China looks them with a different eye post-Xinjiang trouble. It is much worse in China and the the fears of Chinese populace is much worse than what is coming out in the news.

Posted by rajeev | Report as abusive

An attack on Pakistan will be met with full force and it should be kept in mind that unlike Iraq or Afghanistan Pakistan is not going to be an easy game.
With a huge and capable Army, a potent Air Force, a sizeable Navy , nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, and a fearless spy service ISI undertaking deadliest missions with no fear. Pakistan is not comparable to Iraq or Afganistan at all.

Pakistan Army is involved in counterinsurgency, ISI has apprehended the most Al-qaeda fugitives numbered in hundereds and brought to justice. The world has a clear choice; assist Pakistan Army and ISI in fight against terrorists or risk a war with Pakistan.
- Posted by Umair

1) If the precarious state of Pakistani oil reserves in November of last year were any indication of Pakistani military readiness, then it won’t take much to defeat Pakistan. There is no Army in the world that can fight without food and fuel….and in the Pakistani case…spare parts (because they do not have the industrial capability to make them quite often…and will run through them at rates not seen by manufacturers because Pak users won’t read the accompanying system manual – a particularly tough issue for Pak Army helicopters). As the saying goes, “Amateurs talk weapons, professionals talk logistics.” All the nukes in the world won’t help you if there is no gas for the delivery systems. And any talk about war is juvenile rhetoric if you can’t talk about the consequences for your country. I am sure you are bright enough to understand the economic consequences and the possible internal security challenges that would result for Pakistan should it decide on any conflict with the west. The mere imposition of Iraq-style economic sanctions would probably force Pakistan to exploit the Balochis further leading to their resentment and only further insurgencies in Pakistan…on top of the general discontent that seems to the be there everywhere but in Punjab. How many Balochis or Pashtun proudly claim to be Pakistani first and Balochi or Pashtun second? How far do you think their loyalty will go if Punjabis decide that war with the west is better than their betterment (particularly if Afghanistan starts looking more attracting than the FATA or NWFP)?

2) The Pak Army may have taken on AQ (and its contribution is still no where near that of NATO) but it has done very little about the Taliban other than arresting the odd number 2 or 3 guy every time a US official shows up. (The joke in my office is that the US should send Clinton over every week and then the troops will be home by Christmas.) That situation should lead to the conclusion that the Pakistan Army is either incapable of tackling of the Taliban (in which case Pakistanis should really stop talking about taking on India or the US) or it is unwilling (far more likely). The latter makes Pakistan an unreliable ally. And sooner or later that kind of duplicity will have consequences.

ps. Taking on AQ is not counter-insurgency, it’s counter-terrorism.

Posted by Keith | Report as abusive

To uproot terrorism by its roots one has to accept a simple fact and that is to acknowledge the fact that this war cannot be won by killing a select group of Taliban or Al Queida.

While the western countries are busy waging a cover and overt proxy war in Afghanistan and target the Taliban and Al Qaida it remains very silent on the other face of the same outfits, terrorists and their camps in Pakistan held Kashmir.

We must launch a joint strike on all terror camps and havens in Pakistan and in this context joint USA-Pak strikes in western borders of Pakistan must be supplemented by a strike at the terror camps in Pak occupied Kashmir.

Terrorists must be eliminated, killed or taken prisoners and tried by a joint coalition of forces- USA, UK, Australia, Germany; Afghanistan and India.

Posted by Napaksitan | Report as abusive

After eight years of failure in Afghanistan, lets just start a new war in Pakistan? I guess drones can do a job that 50K NATO forces could not.